General Accountability Office says U.S. Army rail readiness is lacking

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
image description
DOD personnel moving equipment on non-restricted track.
Department of Defense GAO-21-411

While this story is somewhat "out of range" for our normal reporting, the gravity of the GAO's report on rail readiness for the U.S. Army is such we thought it appropriate to report on it.

Below is a summary of the GAO’s concern around U.S. Army rail readiness in the event mobilization is needed.

When an Army unit is called into the field, about two-thirds of its equipment moves to a shipping port by rail, Army officials said.

The Army cut its rail operating force by 70% after a 2015 Army analysis concluded that it didn’t need its own crews and could rely on civilians. However, the remaining crews have been in high demand and Army officials said it is unclear what would happen in a large mobilization.

Also, about half the tracks under Army control have been closed due to defects, inspectors said. The Army doesn’t have an overall program to assure tracks are inspected and deficiencies corrected.

What GAO Found

The Army has taken some actions to provide rail operating crews, but has not determined requirements for the number of trained rail operating crews needed. Based on a 2015 analysis, the Army reduced its rail force structure by 70 percent to a single 180-person 757th Expeditionary Rail Center (ERC). As the Army’s only rail unit, it provides railroad personnel to assess, plan, coordinate, and conduct rail operations to support the warfighter overseas. Although not part of its mission, the 757th ERC also provides rail operating crews to support the rail movement of Army units in the continental U.S. (CONUS) as a stopgap measure. Officials stated that, since fiscal year 2018, the 757th ERC operated under an exception allowing them to support CONUS operations, and that the demand for these crews in CONUS occurred frequently and regularly. Army officials stated that a possible gap could exist in the event of a large mobilization as the unit would be dedicated to its overseas effort and may also be called to support CONUS movements. A 2020 Army study considered whether rail assets, such as the number of trains, could meet requirements, but officials stated that it did not determine the number of rail operating crews needed to support a large mobilization. Determining this requirement and the risk associated with any shortfall of crews would better position DOD to mitigate those risks.

For more information about this story, please check these links:

Highlights page (1 page)

Full Report (25 pages)

Accessible PDF (30 pages)

Categories: Class 1, Freight, Intermodal, News, Shortline/Regional
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